Back This Way

By C_A <>

Rated G

Submitted January 2007

Summary: "Sometimes, when he looked at her, she saw his loneliness and how good he had become at hiding it." A young Clark Kent seen through the eyes of a childhood friend.

Disclaimer: These characters don't belong to me, and I'm not making any money off of this. I wish I were, though. The title is taken from Ian Tyson's "Four Strong Winds," as is a paraphrased line in the story.


She fell for him the moment she laid eyes on him her first day at Smallville High.

Being fifteen and having just recently discovered the wonders of the opposite sex, the first thing Rachel noticed was how perfectly he wore those blue jeans and a white t-shirt. He was standing by his locker with a friend, engaged in an animated discussion, when his whole face suddenly lit up and he threw his head back, laughing.

From that moment on, she was a goner. Her crush on Clark Kent would last throughout high school and a year or two beyond, even after he had long left Smallville to pursue bigger and better things. She stayed behind, a smalltown girl who had never felt the inclination to move outside the world she had grown up in. Not like Clark who had always been restless that way.

And he'd done so well for himself, just like she had known he would. He had landed a job at the most prestigious newspaper in the nation, if not the world, and made a name for himself. The townspeople thought of him as a kind of local hero: Smallville's golden boy, out to fight for truth and justice and whatever else there was worth fighting for.

He had grown up and out of so many things, the very things she cherished about their childhood town.

Thinking back to that first day of high school, she recalled dropping her books only a few feet away from his locker so he would rush over and pick them up for her. He did, of course, and they took it from there.

But this was high school, the time of unrequited love and teenage angst, so it was probably not surprising that he never felt the same way about her. By the end of his sophomore year, he had started dating Lana "Ms. Popular" Lang, whose general arrogant attitude and belief that worship was the only kind of attention fit for her, made her completely undeserving of his interest in her.

Even after his alliance with the evil one, Clark stayed a friend, of course, because he was a friend to anyone who wanted him to be. So charming, so handsome, so likeable that nobody could help but feel drawn to him. He was editor of the school paper, running back on the football team, boyfriend of the head cheerleader, and just all-around Mr. Nice Guy.

Something that Rachel noticed more than others was the fact that he was also quiet and withdrawn most of the time, a loner by choice. Thinking back, Rachel didn't recall seeing him at parties often. He almost seemed a little shy, only opening up once he got to know someone. Clark was introspective and thought about the future all the time instead of living vivaciously in the present like his peers. And sometimes, when he looked at her, she saw his loneliness and how good he had become at hiding it.

Once, on a warm and sunny spring day during lunch hour, Rachel found him sitting on the bleachers by the football field, caught up in a book: To Kill a Mockingbird, his favorite, he had once told her.

She slowly wandered over to him, climbing over the empty benches. "Reading for class?"

He looked up at her, startled, apparently not having heard her approach. She enjoyed the idea that he could get so lost in something that everything else faded away.

"No," he replied, "for fun." He softly added, "It lets me escape myself."

He was so serious sometimes. So different in more ways than one. She wished he could see the beauty of who he was, the way she had the moment they met, and wondered if he ever would. He spoke so little, hesitant to share his thoughts with anyone. She never pried, wanting him to be secure in the knowledge that the things he struggled to keep secret were still his own.

"Ah, listen, Rach," he said. "I was wondering… are you free this weekend?"

"This weekend?"

"Yeah. I don't have a date for the prom yet. I was hoping…" His voice drifted off, the question left unasked. Was he blushing? Rachel melted. God, the guy was adorable.

"Yes!" The word rushed out without a second thought. "I'd love to be your date, Clark."

And then it occurred to her, the fact that there was still—

"What about Lana?" she asked.

His shoulders slumped. "We broke up."

"Oh. Sorry to hear that." Not, she added silently. "What happened?"

He sighed, squinting up at her. "She's… not very open-minded."

What a shocker. Lana Lang, bimbo extraordinaire, was not open-minded? Who would have thought? Rachel wondered how he had reached that conclusion so suddenly. But she didn't ask for details, and he never talked about it again, at least not to her.

He took her to his prom and it was the only time she came close to fulfilling her fantasy of becoming the girl he dreamed about.

He dutifully promised her mother he'd have her back by eleven- thirty. Without a look or a word, he took her hand when they walked up the front steps of Smallville High. He shared nearly every dance with her, holding her closer when the music slowed.

And as the band finished their last song, she acknowledged the fact that some things weren't meant to last, least of all high school crushes, and she would never be his leading lady. That role was reserved for someone else, whoever she might be.

On their way back, driving by Shuster's Field, they ended up having a flat tire.

"Great," Clark muttered, getting out of the truck.

Rachel followed, hitching up her dress a few inches so it wouldn't drag in the dirt. The night air was uncharacteristically warm for the time of year, yet she shivered. She pulled her shawl around her shoulders as she joined Clark at the back of the pick-up where he was removing the spare tire.

He paused and looked at her. Without a word, he slipped out of his tux jacket and draped it around her shoulders. It carried his scent, that wonderful fragrance of lavender and sandalwood, and she had to stop herself from burying her face in the fabric, breathing him in.

"This is going to take a while," Clark told her. "I'm not exactly a car mechanic."

The wind picked up, ruffling his hair. Lightning flashed, followed by a crack of thunder close by.

"Oh, great," she muttered. "We'll get soaked."

"Just get back in the truck. Why ruin two sets of expensive clothes?"

He looked at her with a little smile. As she stood there, she thought back to those minutes by the football field, to his eyes and the sadness in them. He'd be gone soon, his senior year drawing quickly to a close. Rachel would stay behind, longing to recapture those days of easy love never returned.

She looked at him standing so close to her in the dark, another lightning flash turning his face into a blend of brightness and shadow, and wished she had the courage to kiss him, only once to last her a lifetime. He would not return to her, to this, so the least she could do was make sure he never forgot.

When she took a step closer, she almost expected him to back away, but he stood his ground. His expression was unreadable as she touched his hips and stood on tiptoes, leaning in to him. His aftershave filled her head, making her dizzy, making her float. Only at the last moment did he lower his head and allow her to touch his lips with hers. It was a soft kiss, filled with a sense of longing, fulfilment and goodbye.

Look for me if you're ever back this way, she thought at that moment, the last song of the evening echoing in her mind, and yet they both knew he never would.

When they broke apart, he looked at her, puzzled and maybe just a little embarrassed. She stepped back, hearing him softly clear his throat. He looked so innocent just then, like he might never grow up.

When he briefly returned to Smallville after nearly a decade, taking a job as editor of the "Smallville Press", it became clear that he *had* grown up, like all boys must, and had grown into himself. Yet, he was still restless, impatient, as though he knew something was still out there waiting for him. It came as no surprise when, after only seven months, he left for Metropolis.

Now, he was getting married. It was not the ending she had hoped for back in high school, but it was a realistic one, and, she hoped, one befitting a hero. He would never realize just how well she had known him back then, in those days of loneliness and frustration, how she had understood without words all the things he had never shared with her, and how well she remembered the ones he had, including a farewell kiss in the face of an impending storm.

He would never know that he had never been alone.